Stop Overthinking Meditation
The easiest way to start meditating.
Meditation: That Thing You Think About Doing
You don’t meditate. You know some people who do, and honestly they’re not exactly superhuman so you’re a little skeptical of the whole thing. But then again 75% of the successful people you hear about mention meditation as a key reason for their success. You also hear it helps to stay calm and de-stressed and you definitely want that. So what to do?
You’ve most likely googled “meditation”, “how to meditate”, “type of meditation”, “is meditation hard”, so you’ve already seen 18 different ways to do it. Focus on a candle. Focus on your breath. Empty your mind. Don’t empty your mind. Sit in that meditation pose that kills your knees or just sit anywhere.
You’ve also inevitably stumbled upon “Transcendental Meditation”. It’s meditation but even better because it’s got Seinfeld, Oprah, Ray Dalio, and Kendall Jenner, and some sort of secret word you’re supposed to repeat to yourself like you’re a monk sitting naked on top of Everest. To their credit, they do a brilliant job marketing. In their thousand dollar classes they warn you: “Don’t do TM before bed. You’ll have such a rush of energy you’ll never fall asleep.” “After 20 minutes of TM, be sure to take five minutes to come back to reality or you might get a headache.” They lean into these supposed side effects as a way of pushing you to believe that the practice is insanely powerful. Who knows, maybe it is. It’s all very L.A.
A final option you may have missed and probably shouldn’t consider is the True Detective Season 1 Matthew McConaughey route: stare at a small mirror the size of an eyeball, and “contemplate the moment in the garden… the idea of allowing your own crucifixion.” Is that anti-L.A. or the most L.A.? I’m not sure.
Your research has brought you nothing but choices, and like all humans, you think that means there is a wrong one.
The Normal Person Meditation Description
Fortunately, there are two pieces of good news: there is no wrong choice, and it’s simpler than they say.
What is meditation then? Meditation is just you sitting there. It’s the lack of doing anything. It’s closing your eyes, and just sitting there.
That is not to say that it takes no effort to not do anything. Whether you are just starting or you have been at it for a few years, the minute you settle into meditation, your mind dynamites your memory dam and the tidal wave of to-do’s threatens to wash you away. You remember it was your cousin’s birthday yesterday and you need to text them asap. A perfect question for that Wednesday’s zoom trivia pops into your head. You finally remember the name of that potential investor you blanked on last Friday. All of these take just a second to type into your phone.
And yet you don’t act.
You don’t do a damn thing for 20 minutes.
Each day is an exercise in learning to be still.
Is It Even Worth It?
The more you do it, the more you enjoy it and the easier it gets to just sit there. And then, at some indeterminate point, it just starts to feel good. You start to look forward to it. It’s weird, honestly. I could start saying things like meridians and chakras and mindfulness and none of us would be the wiser. The best way I can describe it is for a split second your thoughts just get tired of running around your mind and they take a quick water break. They’ve never gotten a water break before. They feel pretty good about it and you feel pretty good about it. And then they start running around again.
The effects also expand beyond that 20 minute period. Stillness is impulse control. Impulse tends to rule and quite often ruin our days. As that hair trigger response becomes less sensitive, you experience fewer of those chest-tightening, raw emotion reactions as your stress levels hit their limits. You know... those reactions you always regret.
Idiot-Proof How-To (It Worked For Me)
How to actually start though? I want to end this on a very practical note on actually doing meditation, because I’ve noticed that description is lacking. First is the how-to. The second is the how-not-to.
Pick any time: when you wake up, after breakfast, or during your 3pm lull.
Sit down. In a chair, on the floor, reclined, upright, whatever. For what it’s worth, I find a comfortable chair where my lower back is fully supported and my feet can be on the floor to be the best. If you’re on a couch that’s too deep your posture ends up melting and it’s oddly uncomfortable.
Turn on airplane mode on your phone.
Get your stopwatch up on your phone. Stopwatch, not timer. Needs to count up, not down.
Put your phone near you where you can see it easily.
Start the timer. You can’t touch your phone after this.
Close your eyes and sit.
Try breathing, try settling into the chair. Daydream. Analyze a problem. Wait for the thoughts and think about them. Wait for the thoughts and don’t do anything. Freak out about if it’s time yet. Anything will happen and it’s all allowed.
You can open your eyes to look at how much time is left whenever you want.
Once the timer is around 20 minutes, move on with your day.
Note: This is the first of 5,000+ meditations over the course of your life. Whatever you do in the beginning isn’t wrong, but it will definitely change over time as you find things that feel better.
Two things messed up my first few attempts at consistently meditating:
Missing a day doesn’t matter. Please do not get stressed because you didn’t find time that day. Stressing about a de-stressing activity is hilarious and common and defeats the entire purpose. If you miss a day, do it the next day. If you miss two days, do it the next day. If you’re having a slow start with it, keep finding times, no matter how spread out, to do 20 minutes. Eventually it will flow into an actual routine.
When I finally carved out 20 minutes a day to meditate in the morning, my first reaction to creating that time morphed into worries that I wasn’t optimizing it. I actually thought “if I spent 20 minutes writing every morning instead, I could probably write a full book!” Productivity articles are the space-junk orbiting our online media world, cluttering our mind with constant debates about how to best spend our seconds. But this time only exists because you wanted to meditate!
Take it from me: you’ll try the writing-a-book-routine for three days before that 20 minutes becomes 0 minutes and you’re back at square one. You will end up consistently spending time on things you actually want to do. If you want to meditate, then that’s the motivation that will spur consistency.